Derek Jeter walked to home plate, toyed with his batting gloves, stepped into the batter’s box as fans chanted his name and legged out an infield hit.
A feeling of normalcy returned to the Yankee Stadium. The captain was back after a nine-month layoff.
But, perhaps, only for a few innings.
Jeter singled on his first pitch of the season, then felt a tight right quadriceps and was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of New York’s 8-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday.
He scored a run and went 1-for-4 with an RBI groundout as the designated hitter in his return from a broken ankle sustained in last October’s AL Championship Series opener. After icing the leg, the 39-year-old was headed to a hospital for a scan.
In a season thus far memorable for sidelined stars rather than sustained success, the Yankees anxiously awaited the test results.
“It’s not frustrating, yet. We’ll see. They MRI everything around here,” Jeter said. “I hope it’s not a big deal.”
Known for trying to ignore most injuries, Jeter vowed not to this time. Sort of.
“I can’t trick the tests,” he said, before adding: “I always play.”
He played through September and into October last year with what was called a bone bruise. The left ankle finally gave out in the AL Championship Series opener against Detroit.
“I don’t think it broke because I was 38. I think it broke because I continued to play on something that maybe I shouldn’t have,” Jeter said.
The possible setback is not what the Yankees were hoping for in a season also hampered by significant injuries to first baseman Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Francisco Cervelli.
“It’s kind of what we went through this year,” manager Joe Girardi said. “So hopefully, it’s nothing, it’s just some leg tightness and he’ll be ready to go.”
Andy Pettitte (7-6) settled down after another shaky first inning to win consecutive starts for the first time since April. Lyle Overbay hit a go-ahead, two-run single in a four-run fifth against Ervin Santana (5-6) as New York overcame a 3-0 deficit and split the four-game series.
New York cut short the star shortstop’s rehabilitation assignment in the minor leagues after just four games following injuries Wednesday night to Travis Hafner and Brett Gardner, who hit for Jeter in the eighth. Jeter found out about 11 p.m. in Scranton, Pa., went back to his hotel, waited for his equipment and caught a ride to New York. He arrived about 2:30 a.m., and fell asleep 90 minutes later.
Jeter batted second in his first big league game since Oct. 13. He said after the initial injury he would return by opening day, then fractured the ankle again in April during his rehab and missed the first 91 games of the season.
Jeter turned on a 95 mph fastball in the first — “I had my mind made up yesterday that I was going to swing at the first pitch” — and sent a three-hopper up the third-base line that fell from Miguel Tejada’s throwing hand. The crowd of 40,381 screamed “De-rek Je-ter! De-rek Je-ter!”
Jeter’s ankle got more tests when he raced to third on Robinson
Cano’s single up the middle, and came home without a throw on Vernon Wells’ sacrifice fly to right.
The Yankees’ all-time hits leader grounded out in the second and again in the fifth, when second baseman Johnny Giavotella made a diving stop to prevent an RBI single. That’s when the quad tightened.